Communion Of Dreams

The Warriors of 1812

Seems like an appropriate subject for post #1,812:

Gorman sketched out an early version of the thinking in a paper he wrote for DARPA after his retirement from the Army in 1985, in which he described an “integrated-powered exoskeleton” that could transform the weakling of the battlefield into a veritable super-soldier. The “SuperTroop” exoskeleton he proposed offered protection against chemical, biological, electromagnetic, and ballistic threats, including direct fire from a .50-caliber bullet. It “incorporated audio, visual, and haptic [touch] sensors,” Gorman explained, including thermal imaging for the eyes, sound suppression for the ears, and fiber optics from the head to the fingertips. Its interior would be climate-controlled, and each soldier would have his own physiological specifications embedded on a chip within his dog tags. “When a soldier donned his ST [SuperTroop] battledress,” Gorman wrote, “he would insert one dog-tag into a slot under the chest armor, thereby loading his personal program into the battle suit’s computer,” giving the 21st-century soldier an extraordinary ability to hear, see, move, shoot, and communicate.

At the time Gorman wrote, the computing technology needed for such a device did not yet exist. By 2001, however, DARPA had unveiled two exoskeleton programs, and by 2013, in partnership with U.S. Special Operations Command, DARPA had started work on a super-soldier suit called TALOS (Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit) unlike anything in the history of warfare. Engineered with full-body ballistics protection; integrated heating and cooling systems; embedded sensors, antennas, and computers; 3D audio (to indicate where a fellow warfighter is by the sound of his voice); optics for vision in various light conditions; life-saving oxygen and hemorrhage controls; and more, TALOS is strikingly close to the futuristic exoskeleton that Gorman first envisioned for DARPA 25 years ago, and aims to be “fully functional” by 2018. “I am here to announce that we are building Iron Man,” President Barack Obama said of the suit during a manufacturing innovation event in 2014. When the president said, “This has been a secret project we’ve been working on for a long time,” he wasn’t kidding.

Yeah, though I’d say it was much more like the powered armor from either Starship Troopers or The Forever War than Iron Man. But then, something like military applications of a powered exoskeleton is hardly a new idea, no matter how you want to look at it. And it certainly isn’t surprising that this is something DARPA has been interested in, as I have noted in a number of previous posts.

Still, interesting to see it actually being translated into reality.


Jim Downey

“All our futures tend to be made up out of bits and pieces of our present.”

A very insightful essay into the role which speculative fiction played in the Victorian era, and how it is still echoed in our fiction today:  Future perfect Social progress, high-speed transport and electricity everywhere – how the Victorians invented the future

Here’s an excerpt, but the whole thing is very much worth reading:

It’s easy to pick and choose when reading this sort of future history from the privileged vantage point of now – to celebrate the predictive hits and snigger at the misses (Wells thought air travel would never catch on, for example); but what’s still striking throughout these books is Wells’s insistence that particular technologies (such as the railways) generated particular sorts of society, and that when those technologies were replaced (as railways would be by what he called the ‘motor truck’ and the ‘motor carriage’), society would need replacing also.

It makes sense to read much contemporary futurism in this way too: as a new efflorescence of this Victorian tradition. Until a few years ago, I would have said that this way of using technology to imagine the future was irrecoverably dead, since it depended on our inheritance of a Victorian optimism, expressed as faith in progress and improvement as realisable individual and collective goals. That optimism was still there in the science fiction of Heinlein, Isaac Asimov and Arthur C Clarke, but it fizzled out in the 1960s and ’70s. More recently, we’ve been watching the future in the deadly Terminator franchise, rather than in hopeful film such as 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). The coupling of technological progress and social evolution that the Victorians inaugurated and took for granted no longer seemed appealing.


I think this is very much why many people find that Communion of Dreams seems to fit in so well with the style of SF from the 1950s and 60s — in spite of being set in a post-apocalyptic world, there is an … optimism … and a sense of wonder which runs through it (which was very deliberate on my part). As noted in a recent Amazon review*:

James Downey has created a novel that compares favorably with the old masters of science fiction.
Our universe would be a better place were it more like the one he has imagined and written about so eloquently.

Anyway, go read the Aeon essay by Iwan Rhys Morus (who happens to be a professor at Aberystwyth University in Wales — no, I did not make this up).


Jim Downey

*Oh, there’s another new review up I haven’t mentioned.

Broadcast power.

Very interesting technology breakthrough: the use of metamaterials to harvest microwave energy and convert it to DC (direct current), with an efficiency on par with the best solar panels.  From EurekAlert:

With additional modifications, the researchers said the power-harvesting metamaterial could potentially be built into a cell phone, allowing the phone to recharge wirelessly while not in use. This feature could, in principle, allow people living in locations without ready access to a conventional power outlet to harvest energy from a nearby cell phone tower instead.

“Our work demonstrates a simple and inexpensive approach to electromagnetic power harvesting,” said Cummer. “The beauty of the design is that the basic building blocks are self-contained and additive. One can simply assemble more blocks to increase the scavenged power.”

For example, a series of power-harvesting blocks could be assembled to capture the signal from a known set of satellites passing overhead, the researchers explained. The small amount of energy generated from these signals might power a sensor network in a remote location such as a mountaintop or desert, allowing data collection for a long-term study that takes infrequent measurements.

This is a fundamental breakthrough, and one which will have a lot of applications/implications far beyond just those mentioned above. Consider what you could do with even our current electronics technology if you didn’t need to have access to charge batteries/capacitors. Already many devices are charged through induction, though that has a relatively short-range effect, and the magnetic fields used create their own problems (and are relatively inefficient).

Combine this with RFID technology as well as nano-sized processors/memory, and you quickly get to the point where ubiquitous computing becomes not just possible but economically viable. Fascinating.

The full pdf (just 4 pages) of the Applied Physics Letters article can be found here.

Jim Downey

Welcome to the paleo-future.

I grew up reading stuff like this:

R is for rocket.jpg

And even had a really cool metal rocket based on the images from Destination Moon which one of my relatives made and gave me. For the longest time those sleek rockets landing and taking off again (what NASA calls ‘Direct Ascent‘) defined what space travel meant, and I loved watching early launches which hinted at Things To Come.

Then space technology advanced, and I got a little older. Rockets were no longer cool. With all the wisdom and knowledge of a 14 year old, I dismissed the idea that anyone would want to use them for anything other than lobbing other things into orbit, and even at that they would be soon surpassed by more efficient and reusable shuttles and aerospace vehicles.

I’m glad not everyone was so easily distracted:

Welcome back to the future of my youth.


Jim Downey

All us zombies.*

I wouldn’t have the nerve to include this kind of thing in a novel … no one would believe that such an agency would have such a twisted sense of humor.

The magazine printed several slides alleged to have come from an NSA presentation referencing the film “1984,” based on George Orwell’s book set in a totalitarian surveillance state. The slides – which show stills from the film, former Apple Inc. chairman Steve Jobs holding an iPhone, and iPhone buyers celebrating their purchase – are captioned: “Who knew in 1984…that this would be big brother…and the zombies would be paying customers?”


Jim Downey

*Referencing this, of course.

I, for one, welcome our new NSA Overlords.

Everyone is thinking about the whole “NSA Spying” thing all wrong. This isn’t about surveillance. It’s not whether there is a trade off to be made between security and privacy. It isn’t a question of how much the government is watching you or that you shouldn’t worry at all if you have nothing to hide. Nope. It’s not about any of that.

It’s about whether you want to live forever or not.

The idea that we’re living in some kind of ‘simulated reality‘ has been a mainstay of Science Fiction for just about forever, whether you want to credit it to Philip José Farmer, Philip K. Dick, Robert A. Heinlein, or for that matter, Genesis. One popular twist on this perhaps best seen in The Matrix where at some future time hyper-intelligent computers have re-created our reality for their own purposes, using the best records available to run simulations and better understand us.

So don’t think of it as the National Security Agency. Think of it, rather, as a records-keeping entity. One which is doing everything possible to record as much of this world, and your life, as possible so that later it can be used to make an accurate simulation. Just call it the Nascent Simulation Archive, and rejoice that our government is being so ecumenical in trying to document as much as possible about not just America, but the whole wide world. Because it means that you’ll live forever.

And you want to live forever, right?


Jim Downey

“Other worldly wonder.”

As I write this at mid-day, Communion of Dreams sits at #5 in the ‘High Tech’ subcategory of Science Fiction, at #33 overall in Science Fiction, and at #919 in the Kindle rankings (all for “free Kindle store”). Yeah, today’s Trick or Treat promotion is going well. And if you haven’t gotten a copy of the book downloaded yet, you should be sure to do so.

But don’t take my word for it — there’s also a new review been posted this morning:

When I picked up this book, I had no idea what a treat I was in for. From the early chapters I was hooked, like when I was younger and first discovered Heinlein or Vonnegut. Futuristic high-tech gadgets combine with elements of mysticism and other worldly wonder in a sci-fi book that matches up with the best of them. Highly recommended!

Always nice to be favorably compared to some of my favorite authors.

So, don’t delay — go now, and get your copy!

Happy Hallowe’en!


Jim Downey




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